Kerry, Lieberman Gather Allies for Climate Bill

Posted May 12, 2010 at 5:50pm

More than a dozen executives from industry, utility companies and environmental groups flanked Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) on Wednesday, offering some much-needed support for their sweeping climate change legislation.

While the legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate, particularly after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) backed away from the negotiating table a few weeks ago, industry support has been a key part of Kerry and Lieberman’s strategy for advancing the bill.

“This year with this bill we’re going to fight to get 60 votes,” Kerry said.

While Lieberman and Kerry noted the “diverse” group of supporters, including Jim Rogers of Duke Energy, Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund and Tom Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute, there were no oil industry representatives at the unveiling.

Kerry said that despite their absence, BP, Shell Oil and ConocoPhillips are all supportive of the legislation, which calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

“This is the first time we’ve had that kind of support,” Kerry told reporters. “There are others who are not yet supportive but who are looking at it.”

Lieberman said the unprecedented support by the oil and gas industry for the bill is because it prefers legislation to the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory approach.

“They much prefer to negotiate with us, which is what we opened the door to,” Lieberman said, “and to legislate and enact a system that will be predictable.”

Indeed, Shell put out a statement praising the legislation.

“We are pleased the Senators engaged Shell, along with other energy companies and an array of environmental and business groups, in dialogue as the bill was developed,” the company said in a statement. “They have pursued an open and inclusive process and ensured that a range of views were taken into account.”

[IMGCAP(1)]Still, it appears Kerry and Lieberman have some work to do before all three of the oil companies are completely on board.

ConocoPhillips’ Nancy Turner said the oil and gas company is not ready to back the entire bill.

“Rather, we support the provisions we have worked on with the Senators to address certain key oil and gas sector issues,” Turner said. “We are looking forward to reviewing the complete bill and to working with the Senators on a balanced piece of legislation.”

Similarly, American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said his group must thoroughly assess the bill before taking a position.

“Until full legislative language has been thoroughly analyzed, any assessment would be guesswork at best,” Gerard said in a statement. “We need reliable data and estimates on how the draft legislation would affect energy production, energy prices, consumers’ budgets and the broader economy, in order to judge it on its merits.”

Finding industry support may be the least of the Senators’ worries.

Kerry and Lieberman face political and policy obstacles — and an array of procedural hurdles. Six committees have jurisdiction, including Foreign Relations, which Kerry chairs, and shepherding the legislation through those panels and onto the Senate floor will be a delicate balance that could slow or completely halt progress this year.

Kerry said he is also looking to Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama for leadership. So far, the Nevada Democrat has not committed to moving the legislation on a specific timetable.

“To be successful we will need significant bipartisan cooperation, and I am hopeful Republicans will join us in working to further develop this bill so that it has broad support and can pass this year,” Reid said in a statement.

Kerry said Reid will be meeting with chairmen in the next week or two after they’ve had a chance to take stock of the bill. He and Lieberman are expected to make a presentation at the weekly Democratic Conference meeting on Tuesday.

Liberal Democrats have said offshore drilling provisions in the legislation are a nonstarter, while moderates from manufacturing states want to make sure the bill focuses on clean-coal technology and will not increase utility costs for consumers. Kerry and Lieberman were careful to underscore that their bill addresses those concerns.

Still, Lieberman recognized that “this proposal does not cater to the politics of the moment,” as embattled Members focus on their re-election efforts and are reluctant to take a tough vote on another sweeping overhaul measure.

In a statement, Graham left an opening for supporting the measure that included much of the framework the trio had discussed.

“I believe the broad concepts we came up with before are transformational and are the most consumer and business-friendly effort to date in dealing with carbon pollution,” Graham said. “Most importantly, they can serve as a framework in allowing America to lead in the creation of alternative energy jobs and significantly reducing our dependency on foreign oil. With these goals in mind, I am interested in carefully reviewing the details of the new proposal.”

Jessica Brady contributed to this report.